By Herb Gardener –
Where to go, what to pack, how to tell your possessive cat that you are leaving for a week — “We promise to bring you a scratching post from Key West.” Vacation preparations can feel like test-taking. For me, the math section of that test is selecting restaurants and dining experiences. Regardless of how much I study I feel fraught come reservation time.
Readers of last month’s Flavors And More magazine know that Flora and I will travel to Chicago in July. Here is how I’m negotiating my first priority, eating well, in the Second City.
Follow the talent: I scout chefs. As I watch TV and read print and online articles I make note of chefs who appeal to me for their treatment of local/regional ingredients and dishes, peer reputation, and where possible to determine, consistent presence in his/her own kitchen. Restaurants and dining experiences move, morph, go under or underground, etc. so I follow the talent. Rick Bayless, Stephanie Izard, Bruce Sherman, and Paul Kahan are among those on my current short list.
I speed date restaurant Web sites. Can they surprise, excite, intrigue? Alinea (Latin for the symbol indicating a new paragraph) visually decocts its menu to monochromatic essentials. Savory/sweet characteristics and relative portion size for each course are represented via a simple design shorthand. I found my imagination piqued as much by what was withheld as what was revealed. www.alinea-restaurant.com
Trip Advisor and other review aggregators are worth browsing, but I prefer local media reviews from magazines and newspapers with street cred. The Chicago Tribune’s blog, The Stew, served up useful information on the local dining scene while also conveniently linking to related articles and reviews in other publications.
Location, location, location. We have and will take public transportation when motivated, but restaurants within walking distance of our hotel or attractions receive more attention. Toss in a destination with a great view and al fresco option and an evening stroll is irresistible.
Finally, there are the intangibles. As Chuck Berry asked in Thirteen Question Method, “Can we get in?” Six weeks before departure, both Alinea and Girl and the Goat are already booked throughout our stay. Can Flora tolerate yet another gastropub awash in Belgian ale and pig parts? Will we insist on trying local favorites such as deep-dish pizza at the expense of culinary excursions unavailable in our home town?
Come back for the August issue for the answers.
From the Windy City we travel south to the Gateway of the Americas, Miami, for an American Jewish cuisine recipe with tropical flair. In live-fire cooking master Steven Raichlen’s Healthy Jewish Cooking (Viking: New York, 2000) childhood favorites and holiday standards receive a flavorful low-cal turn. The following spin on tsimmis could become a fixture at your Passover Seders or Thanksgiving dinners.
1 cup apple cider or juice
1 cup water
¾ cup pineapple juice (six-ounce can)
2 cups pitted prunes
½ cup raisins
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into half-inch rounds
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into half-inch rounds
2 cups diced fresh pineapple
1 tablespoon minced fresh or candied ginger
3 strips lemon zest
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 cinnamon sticks
¼ cup honey
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
Combine cider, water and pineapple in a large, heav saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat and add the prunes and raisins. Let steep for 15 minutes. Stir in carrots, sweet potatoes, pineapple, ginger, lemon zest and juice, honey, cinnamon sticks, honey, brown sugar and salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to medium and simmer the tsimmis, covered, for 10 minutes. Uncover the tsimmis and continue cooking until the carrots and sweet potatoes are tender and the pan juices have reduced to a thick, rich-flavored sauce, 10 to 20 minutes. Discard the cinnamon sticks. Adjust seasoning, adding sugar or lemon juice to taste. The tsimmis should be somewhat sweet, but not sugary, with a hint of tartness. Serve hot or at